Every fossil tells a story

The fossil sea urchin I found in 1972. It’s about 13 cm across. Photo: the author (Mike Pole).

A ten year old finds a really cool fossil

There weren’t many things I was going to take with me if I ran away from home (they had to fit in a plastic lunchbox) — but this fossil was one of them.

It had sort of winked at me — a four-armed cross that peeked up through the rubble of the floor under a limestone overhang. It was 1972 and my family was holidaying near Oamaru in southern New Zealand. …

Our ‘biodiversity crisis’ is far more than species extinction

Fossil leaf from the Miocene Nevis Oil Shale, New Zealand. Photo, the author (Mike Pole).

Bit by bit, Ireland loses its forests

There’s a line in the movie ‘Young Einstein’ where Einstein’s Dad says he hopes his son will one day dam the enormous valley they own in Tasmania.

Young Einstein says: “But if I dammed it, I’d drown all the wildlife.”
“Yep” says his father. “In one go.”

Damming big valleys is a pretty effective way of eliminating a large ecosystem. Not just the species in it, but the whole shebang. The species, the ecosystem, the landscape. …

Palaeontologist, traveling the weyward path — trying to piece things together…

The author walking under the Lion Gate at Mycenae, Greece, 2019. Photo: the author (Mike Pole).

What are ya?!

For a long time, what I was probably had a simple answer – a New Zealander. My (younger) sister (an accomplished teacher and an author) and I were both born here. Our mother too, was born in New Zealand, of Irish, Scottish and Swedish background. But our father came from South Africa – of Irish, Scottish and English background. So on that side, I’m doubly removed. Here in New Zealand We have no connections at all with ‘the old countries’ – no relatives, and no stories. We have entirely cut ourselves loose. …

Rainforests on either side of oceans can self-assemble into strikingly similar things

Australian Rainforest. Photo: the author (Mike Pole)

A subtropical or tropical rainforest is one of the most biodiverse places you could ever walk in to. As a way of introducing this diversity, I used to get my students to play a game. Up in the subtropical rainforest of O’Reilly’s, just across the road from Lamington National Park in southern Queensland, I’d send them off in small groups with a task. They had to bring back one of every species of leaf they could find lying on the forest floor (no, cheatin pickin stuff off living plants!). They’d get a point for every species, and the group with…

Giving the Little Ice Age the flick doesn’t make it go away

Dark times. Monastery ‘Kloster Unser Lieben Frauen’ in Magdeburg, Germany. One of the very few buildings to survive the Thirty Years War. Photo: the Author (Mike Pole).

In the mid 17th century, Europeans turned on each other with a viciousness in a class of its own. The Thirty Years War (1618 to 1648) was a period where armies rampaged around the countryside annihilating not just each other, but large numbers of civilians too. The German town of Magdeburg came to exemplify this. In 1631 it was besieged, and sacked the following year. The plundering army went berserk, and most of the city was burnt. Around 20,000 people died, and out of 25,000 inhabitants, only around 5,000 survived. I’ve wandered around Magdeburg, trying to get a minds-eye picture…

When warmer winters are a really bad thing

A Mongolian herder moves his animals. Photo: the Author (Mike Pole).

Mongolia is one of the last places on Earth where a pastoral nomadic lifestyle survives. It’s also one of the toughest places on Earth to live, but climate change and capitalism is threatening its existence.

Between 2007 and 2012, I spent 588 days in Mongolia as a geologist. Not in one go, obviously - I’d have periodic time off, but didn’t spend winter there. My colleagues, involved in drilling, had a break too. Although snow to them was no big deal, you need plentiful water to drill, and when the temperature gets too low, it simply freezes. For me, doing…

Precious isolated trees, and tiny patches, tell of a once-forested land.

A single tree (Ulmus pumila I think) in the middle of an otherwise utterly desolate Mongolian landscape. The blue material indicates it is a special tree for Buddhists. Photo: the author (Mike Pole).

I See the Ghosts of Forests

When an entire landscape loses its forests, it can be so complete that most of us would have no comprehension of what had once been. The trees are cut down, or burnt, the soil washes away … and the very evidence of the existence of a forest has been obliterated. For this reason the odd ancient tree, or patch of original vegetation, are treasures.

I grew-up in a semi-arid, naturally treeless part of the world — Central Otago, New Zealand. Well, actually not quite naturally. When the first European settlers came in the 1850s, it was covered in tussock and…

And if it does, can we still have Wilderness?

A ‘cool’ fire, quietly burning through grass at the base of an open forest. Photo: the author (Mike Pole)

Fire-Stick Farming

Australian Aborigines, perhaps the iconic culture ‘living in harmony with nature’, believed that the Earth needed them to manage the world. Without their continual management, the world would become ‘sick’.

The idea that Australian Aborigines used fire as a deliberate, carefully applied management tool leapt on to the whitefella’s radar in 1969. In that year, Australian archaeologist Rhys Jones published a paper coining the term ‘Fire-stick farming’. Of course, many non-Indigenous people had long been aware that Aborigines made frequent use of fire. The evidence is there in the notes of the earliest explorers. …

Exploring the genre of Vietnam Helicopter Pilot books

A plastic helicopter that came in a 1968 cereal packet. Note the ‘Jesus Pin’ has fallen out and thence the rotor has departed…… Photo: The author (Mike Pole)

On June 1st, 1971, an American helicopter gunship — a two crewed ‘Cobra’, dived to attack a spot in South Vietnam known as ‘Hill 1051’. A kilometer away, Sp. John Cavianni, a hidden Special Forces observer:

“saw a single North Vietnamese kid stand up with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, slowly put it up to his shoulder, taking very careful aim. Caviani was amazed as he watched the ground exploding around the kid, torn up by the minigun fire [from the gunship]. But the kid simply stood there, taking even more careful aim, … the RPG flashed upward, into the cockpit…

Perhaps not — but fire danger will increase

Photo: The author (Mike Pole).

If Australia’s terrible bush fires of 2019/2020 were the result of just one degree of global warming, what on Earth will happen with three degrees?

Last Australian summer (2019–2020) a lot people were drawing a fairly direct link between the extraordinary bush fires, and global warming. Some were drawing a link direct from the fires to the coal-mining policies of the Australian government. It seemed reasonable to think that, even if this outburst was somehow just more example of extreme Australian weather, then it was certainly a vision of what we could expect much more of in the future.


Mike Pole

New Zealander, PhD (plant fossils), traveling the weyward path, just trying to figure out how the world works.

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